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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was seniors.

Last in Parliament September 2021, as NDP MP for Hamilton Mountain (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2019, with 36% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021 April 28th, 2021

Madam Speaker, yes, I have been assured that even in 2020 there was an agreement to make sure those medical supplies would be unloaded, and that is even on record. I have also heard from the union that this would happen again. It would make sure that nothing would stop these medical supplies from being offloaded to make sure Canadians would be safe.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021 April 28th, 2021

Madam Speaker, they sure do. I totally agree with the question. However, the workers have a right also. They have the right to have fair working conditions.

Would the member say it is not okay for his constituents to be out of pocket or interfered with, but that it is okay for 1,120 workers to take abuse where they work and for them to not be able to improve their working conditions?

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021 April 28th, 2021

Madam Speaker, I agree with my colleague.

That Liberal member has asked, during his questions and in his speech, what the role of a parliamentarian is. I look at the role of parliamentarians as being to uphold the Constitution. I truly believe that for the minister to take away workers' rights before a strike even happens is an abuse of her role as Minister of Labour and a direct attack on our Constitution.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021 April 28th, 2021

Madam Speaker, the member asked this the last time. Once again, I support the Constitution, and I would uphold it.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021 April 28th, 2021

Madam Speaker, as I listen to this debate, I continue to become more upset. Not only is the government stripping these workers of their charter right to strike, it issued notice of its intent, through this expedited legislation, to force workers at the Port of Montreal back to their jobs before they even began their strike. What is worse is that the government continues to fearmonger about COVID-19-related supplies with claims that continue to go unsubstantiated. I would like to address this with a quote from an article by FreightWaves published on August 20, 2020. It states:

The union representing longshore workers at the Port of Montreal agreed on Thursday to move some containers holding goods needed in the fight against COVID-19.

“The Maritime Employers Association and the longshoremen’s union have agreed to move containers that contain controlled substances and COVID-19-related merchandise and to unload a ship containing sugar,” the MEA announced early Thursday afternoon.

I hope this puts an end to the reprehensible nonsense. If there is any issue with important pandemic-related supplies not getting to where they need to go, that is certainly not on the union or the workers. Look to the government or the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

The legislation itself would do the following. It would force the employer and the union to extend their expired collective agreement, prevent the employer from locking out workers and prevent the union from striking.

I would like to provide some context to this bill before I give further remarks. In 2019-20, the Canada Industrial Relations Board heard the employer's application for a determination on essential services. The employer's counsel used every trick in the book to stall things at the CIRB, including a motion for the board chair to recuse herself, and forwarded judicial review applications. After the decision was issued, CUPE Local 375 went on strike for 12 days in August 2020. Workers went back to work after a truce agreement was signed, giving the parties seven months to conclude a deal. The union worked with the federal mediation service all this time. On April 16, the union reviewed its strike mandate with a 99.3% vote.

The union finally offered to end the overtime and weekend strike if the employees reverted to the working conditions applicable before April 9. On April 23, members of the union declared their mandate of an unlimited general strike as the employer did not show it wanted to negotiate in good faith. As we know, the minister then signalled before the general strike started that the government would be tabling legislation to force workers back to work, despite their charter right.

The minister should know, if she is speaking to both sides, that this strike can quickly come to an end without the need for legislation. The union has made it very clear that it would cease all forms of work disruption with one fair request to the employer to stop the pressure tactics and collective agreement violations.

I will read what a CUPE spokesperson had to say:

If the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) doesn’t want a strike, all it has to do is let up on its pressure tactics and the union will do likewise. No overtime strike. No weekend strike. It’s straightforward. We want to return to the bargaining table.... We don’t want to hurt the Montreal economy. However, we do want to exercise our fundamental right to bargain collectively.

The minister, in her speech on Government Business Motion No. 5, said the following:

Our government firmly believes that the best deals are reached at the bargaining table. However, intervention is sometimes necessary when the parties are at a significant and long-standing impasse, particularly when a work stoppage is causing significant harm to Canadians. We cannot allow the situation we saw in August 2020 to repeat itself, particularly in the midst of this pandemic. If the current stoppage continues, serious accumulated and negative impacts will continue to be felt all over Canada.

Again, the minister has not provided any concrete examples or data of the direct, significant benefit to Canadians. She continues to fearmonger without concrete facts. Instead of facts and data, all I am hearing is a bunch of quotes from lobbyists about what they speculate may happen. The only relevant fact that I have heard from the government about the actual effect of the work interruption was related to the August 2020 strike. This is relevant. What happened to those ships and the supplies they were carrying? They simply got diverted to other ports.

I have no doubt, and acknowledge, that this has made for significant changes and complications to supply chains and land transportation of goods, but this is part of what happens in a strike. Given the fact that she is the labour minister, I would expect the minister to be aware of this and instead monitor the situation. Her job is not to say that the sky is going to fall and then give notice that she will revoke the charter rights of workers to strike before their strike even begins.

Back-to-work legislation is known to have lasting, negative effects. When we take away the charter rights of hundreds of people by an act of Parliament and force them back to work like this, it really affects the morale of workers. I know. I have seen it. What it also tends to do is sour the relationship between the employer and the employees.

By way of example, let us look at the track record of back-to-work legislation and providing a swift resolution to drawn-out collective agreement talks. Bill C-89, an act to provide the resumption and continuation of postal services, was passed by this same Liberal government in the House of Commons on November 24, 2018. It received royal assent two days later and came into force at noon on the following day. Here is what representatives of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers had to say about being forced back to work to help resolve the situation a whole year after being back.

Though the legislators who passed the bill may have thought it would resolve the situation, nothing is fixed, no contract is in place, and we’re still working without a new collective agreement, without the right to strike, under the dangerous and unfair conditions that we were trying to deal with in negotiations.

They go on to speak very directly about the overarching problems being suffered due to the nature of back-to-work legislation.

Workers pay the price for back-to-work legislation. CUPW members worked two and a half years without new contracts, with the same old problems we were trying to solve through bargaining back in 2018.

After finally getting a contract, though imposed by an arbitrator some 400 days after the back-to-work legislation, significant issues are still not satisfactory. I suspect these will be part of the next round of bargaining next year. This type of legislation is a way of kicking the can down the road via a still drawn-out process all while taking away the employees' right to collective bargaining.

I think it is important for Canadians listening to know that it is not just Liberal governments that impose the harmful and unfair labour practice of back-to-work legislation. In fact, one could say that the Liberal government learned this tactic from the Harper Conservatives and is carrying on the torch of stripping workers of their charter right to strike. Let us have a look at back-to-work legislation by the Conservatives.

The Conservatives legislated the following groups back to work: the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the United Transportation Union.

Before I end, I do want to raise that the government has still not addressed my concern about a recent development. It is my understanding that there was a proposal put forward last evening to avoid the need for Bill C-29. While I am not privy to all the details of this proposal, I do know the employer, the union and the government were all made aware of the said proposal. This proposal would have involved a return to work, as well as the resumption of the flow of goods.

I am being told it was only the employer that objected to this proposal as a way forward. I think it would be a further injustice and shameful for the government to continue its pursuit of this motion and legislation, given the employer's unwillingness to play ball.

I call on the government to allow the workers to pursue their right to strike.

Port of Montreal Operations Act, 2021 April 28th, 2021

Madam Speaker, the minister has stated many times that there is nothing stopping the two parties from reaching a collective agreement before this legislation is passed, yet she has supported the company's request to interfere, which the company wants.

The union has lost all its constitutional rights. Does the minister understand that she is taking away union rights to reach a good-faith collective agreement between the two parties?

Proceedings on a Bill Entitled An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Operations at the Port of Montreal April 28th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, it is an excellent question. The signal that it gives them is absolutely wrong, and it is disappointing that any government would go forward and take away the right of a union even before a strike has happened. That is deplorable and it is unconstitutional, but, from the letters that I have received, this has been going on for a couple of months. The employer has sent letters to the minister, basically asking the government to do something. It looks like the Liberal government has bent and given that upper hand to the employer and taken away 1,120 employees' rights to bargain in good faith.

I am really disappointed in the way the company has handled this. That is because there was a resolution done yesterday, but it still refused that. The company does not want to bargain in good faith. It has no intention of bargaining in good faith, and it knows that it has the Liberals in its back pocket to exercise their big muscle and do away with any of the employees' rights.

Proceedings on a Bill Entitled An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Operations at the Port of Montreal April 28th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I am going to give the member the same answer everybody has been giving him.

It is a hypothetical question. However, for me, personally, it is a constitutional right, done by the Supreme Court of Canada, so I do not think we have the right to eliminate anybody from striking in a labour dispute.

Proceedings on a Bill Entitled An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Operations at the Port of Montreal April 28th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I am upset. I cannot believe that this government has issued formal notice this past Sunday on its intention to force through expedited legislation to force the workers at the Port of Montreal back to work before they even begin to strike.

The motion before us is an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of operations at the Port of Montreal. This back-to-work legislation would force workers back to work who had just commenced their general strike on Monday. As if it is not enough that this government is using back-to-work legislation, it is attempting to ram it through. The motion states that if the bill is adopted here at second reading, it shall be deemed as passed at all stages in the House.

As background on this, CUPE 375 represents 1,100 employees, and those employees are working for several different employers in the Port of Montreal who are represented by the Maritime Employers Association. Negotiations have been ongoing now for about three years to obtain a new collective agreement. From the employees' perspective, the objective of these negotiations is an improvement of working conditions, what I would call work-life balance, particularly in terms of working hours, the right to disconnect and job security for new workers. The previous collective agreement for these workers expired in 2018.

Fast-forward to April of this year. After good-faith negotiations on behalf of the workers, the employer undermined the negotiation process by suspending the job security regime provided for in the collective agreement. Despite the fact that negotiations were continuing, and both sides were seemingly happy with the mediation process, the employer decided to give a 72-hour notice of its intention to not honour job security provisions in the collective agreement. In response, the union launched a partial strike, particularly because the Maritime Employers Association abolished the job security regime, which was acquired in 1970 and constitutes a pillar of their collective agreement.

The union made it clear that the workers would not strike if the employer reverted back to the working conditions applicable before April 10, 2021. The union gave the employer the opportunity to bring down the temperature, stop the pressure tactics and come back to the table to continue negotiating in good faith.

However, instead of respecting the workers' right to free collective bargaining, the Liberal government is introducing a bill that would force employees on strike back to work. From then on, the employer no longer has any incentive to negotiate in good faith, because the government has just sent the signal that negotiations are coming to an end.

The NDP has always defended the interest of unions and workers, and the Liberal government's back-to-work act is a serious denial of the right to strike. On January 30, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada released a landmark labour law decision in Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan. The Supreme Court ruled and concluded that the right to strike is a constitutional right.

The minister, on Sunday, said on Twitter that “...a work stoppage is causing significant economic harm to Canadians.” It is very important to note that the general strike had not yet commenced. It was not until 7 a.m. the next day that the workers walked off the job. Now, I suppose the minister could have been referring to the action taken by the union to refuse overtime and weekend work, which was in response to the notice of suspending the job security provisions.

The first thing I would like to say about the impact of the refusal to work overtime and weekends in this general strike is that there will undoubtedly be disruptions. This is the very nature of how strikes work. For a government that proclaimed itself as being friends of labour, I would expect it to understand this. If governments applied back-to-work legislation every time a workplace went on strike, there would be no strikes. This kind of attempt at justification leads to a clear and sweeping disregard for the right that all workers are supposed to be afforded under the charter.

Second, if the Minister of Labour feels that she is in some sort of unprecedented situation where the impacts of a disruption would be so severe that she has to remove a charter right for strikes, then I would expect that she would have the data to back it up. For a government that says it believes in science and repeatedly talks about an evidence-based decision-making approach, I would surely hope that the minister had data and objective impact assessments before her when she deliberated on whether she would pre-emptively give notice for back-to-work legislation before these workers started their general strike.

I think, given the importance of this debate, all members should be afforded the data and information the minister had before she brought forward this motion and bill. I would ask that the minister table here in the House all the data and information she received before taking the significant step of fast-tracking back-to-work legislation, as part of an attempt to provide what I have heard the minister of fearmongering refer to as medicine and personal protective equipment that will not be able to get through. Again, if she has specific information to corroborate this, she can please share it with the House.

The minister, just one day after the general strike commenced, said, “The work stoppage we are seeing right now is causing harm.” She did not go on to cite any data whatsoever to support that claim. How could the government have collected data on the impacts the day after the strike started? This is one of many illustrations of the government trying to rationalize with speculations in order to explain away a decision to introduce this back-to-work legislation long after the decision has been made.

I also want to talk about what the Conservatives are saying in the chamber. The following is a quote from the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent:

It is not a victory for workers, for the employer, or for the business people and companies dealing with the problems resulting from the dispute, and it is certainly not a victory for parliamentarians.

It is important for Canadians to know the Conservatives appear to be planning to become complicit in this whole affair. They have made it very clear that they will be supporting this legislation.

I am happy to see the Bloc will not be supporting this legislation now, and it is in line with what I am saying: that the minister is fearmongering. My Bloc colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville called out the minister with the following:

The minister was saying that drugs will not get delivered. That is not true and it ignores the facts, because essential services are still being provided. All medical equipment...[is] being handled.

I have some understanding that if the minister believes otherwise, she should provide any related data or facts to the House.

I want to go on. I could go on forever about this, but I want to make an amendment.

I move:

That the motion be amended by replacing paragraph (d) with the following:

(d) if the bill is adopted at the second reading stage, it shall be deemed referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported with the following amendment:

That Bill C-29, in Clause 11, be amended

(a) by replacing line 39 on page 4 to line 10 on page 5 with the following: “such matter, hear the parties on the matter, arbitrate the matter and render a decision in respect of the matter; and”;

(b) by deleting lines 15 to 17 on page 5; and

(c) by replacing lines 25 to 36 on page 5 with the following: “(4) every decision of the mediator-arbitrator under paragraph (1)(b) must be worded in appropriate contractual language so as to allow its incorporation into a new collective agreement.”

that this be deemed concurred in at report stage as amended, and be deemed read a third time and passed.

Proceedings on a Bill Entitled An Act to Provide for the Resumption and Continuation of Operations at the Port of Montreal April 28th, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind my good friend from Kingston and the Islands that last year the Prime Minister made a statement on Labour Day, where he said, “thanks to the hard work and advocacy of unions, we’ve taken action to protect collective bargaining rights”.

Doing what we are doing today is forcing them back to work, so how can the government say it supports labour rights on the one hand, while working to suppress them on the other?